In a career spanning more than 30 years, Margaret Cunneen has earned a reputation as one of the country’s most respected champions of the rights of sexual assault victims.
Her criminal prosecution record is formidable. Since her appointment as NSW Crown Prosecutor in 1990, Cunneen has brought the weight of justice down on some of the nation’s most notorious criminals, including paedophile Robert ‘Dolly’ Dunn, gang rape ringleader Bilal Skaf, the ‘Butcher of Bega’ Graeme Reeves, and Paul Peters – dubbed ‘the Collar-Bomber’.
"My motivation has always been to give a voice to the traumatised victim of crime."
In recent times, though, she’s been firmly engrossed in her role as Commissioner of the NSW Special Commission of Inquiry into matters relating to the police investigation of certain child sexual abuse allegations in the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.
Cunneen considered evidence taken over the course of 100 private witness hearings and 100,000 pages of documentary material before reporting to the Governor in May this year. Her findings are expected to have international significance.
Cunneen worked as a legal clerk while studying for her Bachelor of Laws (1982) at what was then the NSW Institute of Technology (NSWIT), part of the first cohort of students in the Faculty of Law. “I started Law at NSWIT the same day I started work in the NSW Attorney General’s Department,” she recalls. “I’d turned 18 less than a month before.”
A post with the Public Service Board’s Legal Branch followed, before joining the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, heading up their Child Sexual Assault Unit until her appointment as Crown Prosecutor. She took silk, appointed Senior Counsel in 2007.
Cunneen is a firm believer in humanity and conscience in the practice of the law. “My motivation,” she explains, “has always been to give a voice to the traumatised victim of crime, or to his or her bereaved relatives, whose human rights have been violated in the most direct fashion, by the criminal act of another.”
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